Saturday, April 23, 2011

April Garden Talks: Seed Potatoes and Strawberries

Hello again,

Years ago before we could spell "b l o g" we published some tips on growing seed potatoes and strawberries in the garden. The time is now to plant seed potatoes as well as strawberries in the garden. Here are the updated highlights from our original 2001 Garden Talks about this subject:

"I have borrowed from Jim Crockett of Crockett’s Victory Garden to bring you excerpts of some material from his fine book, Crockett’s Victory Garden:

Potatoes like full sun and a light, sandy soil. They also want an acid soil, as alkalinity will promote the development of a skin disease called scab. So I’ve made a point of keeping the potato area free of lime. If your garden has been limed and you still want to grow potatoes, add sulfur at the rate of ½ pound over the surface of a 15 foot row to lower the pH of the soil to between 4.5 and 5.5, which is just right for potatoes.

At Skillin’s we sell certified seed potatoes by the pound.

I could just plant the whole potato, but I can get more for my money, and a larger yield, by cutting the potato into section about the size of an egg, making sure each section has two or three eyes. I plant each of these sections separately, and each will produce a strong potato plant.

Before the sections go into the ground I dip them in sulfur or captan (fungicides) to prevent rotting of the cut surfaces. Then I leave them exposed to the sunshine and air for 3 to 4 days. This dries out the cut surfaces as a further precaution against rotting when the sections hit the cold, damp soil of early spring.

I dig flat-bottomed trench 6 to8 inches wide and 4 to 5 inches deep. Then I sprinkle in 3 good handfuls of 5-10-10, an excellent potato fertilizer (I recommend using Pro Gro 5-3-4 by North Country Organics or Garden Tone by Espoma), in a 15- foot row and scratch it into the soil so it won’t be in direct contact with the potato sections. I put the potato sections in, cut sides down about a foot apart in the trench and cover them with about three inches of soil. As the plants grow, I’ll pull soil in from the trench to keep the plants cool, a procedure known as hilling or mounding.

Mr. Crockett ( a fraternity brother by the way of David and Jeff Skillin of Alpha Tau Gamma at U Mass Amherst) also offers the following advice about strawberries:

Strawberries grown in the home garden are usually sweeter and richer than any that can be bought in stores.

I set my June-bearing strawberry plants into the ground as early in the spring as possible so that they could become will rooted before the warm weather. I prepared the soil the previous fall by covering it with a layer of 2 inches of cow manure and 4 inches of compost. In the spring I dug both these materials into the soil. It wasn’t necessary to add more lime because a soil test indicated a pH of 5.7, the slightly acid condition ideal for growing strawberries.

Strawberries multiply by sending out runners, or aboveground stems, from the main plants. At approximately every 12 inches along the runners a new plant grows and sets down roots into the soil. For this reason I plant strawberries in what’s known as a matted-row system: the plants grow throughout a 3-foot –wide row.

Strawberry plants have long roots and they need to be planted carefully into a deep slitlike hole. If planted too deeply, the crown is likely to smother and rot; if set too high, the crown will dry out and the plant will die. The idea is to set the plants in the slit so that one-half of the crown is buried below grade, one-half above. I make the hole with the flat-bladed spade, which I insert 8 inches deep at 2-foot intervals along the row. As I slip the plants in, I fan the roots out slightly to separate them and give them a better chance to grow. Then I firm them in and give them a good drink of our transplanting elixir, water and liquid fertilizer (we absolutely recommend Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer by Neptune's Harvest).

June-bearing strawberry plants are undoubtedly the most familiar variety of strawberry, but they are not the only variety, and they’re not, in my opinion, even the best. Ever-bearing, or Alpine, strawberry plants are substantially different from their June-bearing counterparts: for one thing as the name implies, they produce fruit all season long, from the spring through to the first frost; for another, they do not produce runners and so remain as tidy handsome plants throughout their lives; finally, their tartly sweet fruit is beautifully shaped and a rich, deep red.

It’s best to replace strawberry beds every two or three years, because the plants and the soil nutrients will have become too exhausted to produce good crops."

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 23, 2010

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